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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Flashback: How the Cougars won the 2013 Bayou Bucket

The Cougars and Owls last met at NRG Stadium, then called Reliant, as TDECU Stadium was finishing construction. | File photo/The Cougar

It has been four years since the Cougars last faced the Rice Owls in the Bayou Bucket. But the teams that lined up on Sept. 21, 2013 are unrecognizable from those that will play on Saturday night.

On that day, the Cougars looked wildly different. John O’Korn was the starting quarterback; Deontay Greenberry was star receiver. Demarcus Ayers, Tyus Bowser and Tyler McCloskey were all freshmen, and Greg Ward Jr. had been recruited as a cornerback.

All of those names are now gone from Houston. Many went to the NFL, others transferred and some we do not really know where they are right now. Regardless, this was a team that showed it was capable of success.

Behind the freshman quarterback O’Korn and a defense that was nationally ranked for takeaways, the Cougars got out to a 5-0 start.

Even with the Teddy Bridgewater-led Louisville Cardinals, it appeared the young Cougars might be able to compete in the newly-minted American Athletic Conference.

Early in their schedule was the Bayou Bucket against the Rice Owls, and it proved to be more of a challenge for the Cougars than previous games. The Rice team that arrived at Reliant Stadium, as it was then known, was the best that school had fielded in a decade.

In 2013 the Owls won ten games, went 7-1 in the Conference USA West Division and won the conference title. To this day, it is head coach David Bailiff’s only championship with the Owls.

The Cougars were 2-0 and the Owls were 1-1, their only loss coming from the Johnny Manziel-led Aggies.

Then, kickoff. The Owls struck first, ending the first quarter with a 13-7 lead by intercepting O’Korn. But the Cougars came right back as Tyus Bowser intercepted Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue. An O’Korn touchdown pass to wide receiver Daniel Spencer would put the Cougars up 17-13 at the half.

Two more passing touchdowns to Greenberry and Ryan Jackson put the Cougars up 31-13 going into the fourth quarter.

However, thirteen consecutive points by the Owls put them within five of the Cougars. And after Rice recovered an onside kick with two minutes left, the threat of choking was a real possibility for the Cougars.

But defensive coordinator David Gibbs called the right plays and was able to stop the Owls on a fourth and four play, basically ending the game.

In the four years since the Cougars and the Owls last played, the Cougars have gone through three different head coaches, won two bowl games and earned a conference title. The Owls won the Hawaii Bowl in 2014 but have only won eight games the last two seasons combined.

The Cougars and the Owls renew their rivalry at 7 p.m. Saturday at TDECU Stadium.

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